˖:✧ ⑅•.⋅༻♔༺•⑅ ✧:˖
Zelle had no other way to explain her feelings toward Valhayle right now so she just nodded.
Valhayle grabbed Zelle and took her off his shoulders.
“My wounds are almost healed now. It’s alright.”
Thinking Zelle was worried about his wounds, Valhayle rolled up his sleeves and showed her the wound.
The wound was closed so he should be able to fight like he said.
Zelle wondered how he got that wound.
He was a chief commander so there would be no way that he was incapable of protecting himself and he wouldn’t have recklessly charged into the enemy grounds.
On top of that, there would have been other knights around him and they wouldn’t have just watched their chief commander get attacked.
Valhayle placed an empty bowl in front of Zelle and spoke.
“We won in the last battle because we know the Black Defense Wall better than they did.”
He poured his water into the bowl.
Zelle wasn’t thirsty but she dipped her beak a few times to show her courtesy.
“It was crucial that we make it through the gate. We once defended it so we were aware that getting through the gates would give us a better chance of victory..”
Then he continued in a lower, solemn voice.
“After the sacrifices of the soldiers, we managed to get through the gate. We slayed our enemies as we advanced across the castle.”
Zelle imagined the scene based on his descriptions.
Bodies everywhere and the cries of the living.
“It was extremely dangerous to go deeper into the castle only with the advance party but when we reached the end of the castle and killed the bugler soldier at the back gate, I knew victory was ours.”
A droplet of water rolled down Zelle’s beak.
“Even though the gates were open, we couldn’t overpower the Granoir soldiers. If we continued fighting, there would have been way more deaths. So we used the bugle of the dead Granoir soldier to create confusion. We blew their retreat signal.”
Valhayle drank the remaining water in his bottle.
“The Granoir soldiers heard the signal and were soon terrified. They started pulling back, not knowing they were actually fighting well… And from then there was no point of fighting anymore.”
He rubbed the scar on his hand.
“I knew that we would win, but I wasn’t confident if I could make it alive from the retreat route I made since the Granoir soldiers started rushing in.”
“I only felt the wound after killing the last green flag bearer.”
Zelle realized that he had been as reckless as she was when she flew through the Granoir camp.
‘Why would you do that when you could have been killed?’
This country’s whole army is waiting for your orders.
Zelle glared into Valhayle’s eyes in anger.
“If I didn’t believe that Roymonde could be saved by recapturing the Black Defense Wall, I wouldn’t have done it.”
If Roheneim could recapture the Black Defense Wall, Roymonde would have an upper hand in this war. Despite knowing this fact, Zelle still couldn’t dispel her anger.
You are the commander-in-chief of this country right now. If you knew what that title means, you wouldn’t have done that.
Valhayle glared back at Zelle.
“But this battle is different.”
Zelle saw his hands ball into a fist.
“Even if we win this battle… I’m not sure if that is truly saving Roymonde.”
What do you mean? It’s obvious that the more we win, the more chance we have of recovering Roymonde.
Valhayle hesitated before continuing.
“If we recapture the downstream area from this battle, we would be able to recover the Central region. We will then install a make-shift bridge to replace the destroyed bridge and procure military supplies and aid from Lopecce. However…”
Zelle sought where Valhayle’s anger was directed at.
“If we trap the Granoir troops like that in the Central-Northern region…”
Zelle widened her eyes.
She found it.
The reason why Valhayle couldn’t rest even the night before the battle, where his anger was directed.
Zelle felt her feathers tremble in chills.
“The citizens remaining in the capital will suffer. Something similar like this had happened before. And it was genocide.”
Zelle looked up to face him while her body trembled.
He gritted his teeth and uttered sorrowfully.
“I couldn’t tell this to anyone. Not a single person…”
Valhayle’s anger was toward himself, for having to make a decision despite knowing what the consequences would be.
Zelle dropped her head.
Zelle was a royal, so she knew the pressure of having to make commands more than he did, since he was in the position of receiving those commands before the war occured.
The ones who made the commands had to decide for the majority, even if that meant a small group had to be sacrificed.
However, the ones who made the commands did not have to face the results of their decision. That was how they tolerated the pressure.
On the other hand, the ones who received the commands had to witness or experience the results of that decision. But they had someone to blame for the guilt.
Regardless of the number of deaths or even their own deaths, they were free from responsibility.
That was why they obeyed the commands and were able to charge toward their enemies.
But in this case, Valhayle was both the one commanding and the one receiving the command.
A decision made for the majority and remorse that he alone had to bear.
That was a harsh thing indeed for a mere human.
Zelle understood him painfully well, since it was the information she had provided that led him to make that decision.
Therefore, the remorse wasn’t only his to endure.
She approached him and softly tapped his fist.
When Valhayle released his hands, Zelle snuggled into them.
She slowly crawled up to the fresh scar on his arm and brushed it carefully with the smooth side of her beak.
Valhayle silently watched her.
Zelle enunciated internally.
Remember this, every time you look at this scar, that you risked your life to save this country and its royalty.
The remorse you feel is entirely ours, not yours. You never had to feel it, ever since you decided to risk your life.
He wouldn’t be able to hear that nor feel that, but…
Valhayle allowed Zelle to continue as if he understood. She nibbled his calloused hands softly and ended her consolation.
For the first time, she was glad that she was in a bird’s body.
She could only comfort him like this because she was a bird. She couldn’t have done it in her real body.
It was something that she couldn’t even consider since she would never be allowed to do anything as her real self.
Valhayle parted his lips after staring at Zelle for a long time.
“I know that it can’t be but I feel like you under–”
He cut himself off. But Zelle didn’t need to hear the last segment to understand what he wanted to say.
After a moment of silence, he spoke in a raspy voice.
“I don’t even know how that’s possible but-”
He closed his eyes.
“…I feel like you are listening to me. And that makes me content.”
Valhayle placed his hands on Zelle’s head.
He stared intensely at Zelle like the red charcoal that remained after a flame.
Zelle returned the gaze without blinking.
After a while.
Valhayle stood abruptly.
He grabbed Zelle and put her into the cage, saying in his usual cold voice.
“Rest. Everything will be decided tomorrow.”
Then he blew out the light of the lamp.
Deep darkness descended onto the camp awaiting battle at dawn.
10 days since the battle at the Black Defense Wall and 8 days since the day Zelle described the map of the Granoir camp.
38,000 Roheneim men attacked the Granoir bivouac* in the Vishen River basin.
To Granoir, it was an ambush. They hadn’t had any time to predict this since Valhayle sped up the plan by leaving the wounded soldiers back in the Black Defense Wall.
On top of that, Granoir had moved their camp to the upstream region of the Vishen River; only a few troops remained in the downstream region.
After hearing news about Roheneim’s advancement, they predicted that Roheneim would attack them from the midstream region.
It was a logical prediction since the downstream region was still flooded.
However, Rohenim headed downstream.
The Granoir troops there were looking after the defeated soldiers from the battle at the Black Defense Wall.
They were all trembling in fear from the accounts of the defeated soldiers and Sir Luke’s spreading of the rumor.
In Sir Luke’s rumor, Commander-in-Chief Valhayle was described as some kind of monster.
He was big and powerful as the black bear with a hideous appearance and terrifying swordsmanship.
So when the Roheneim army attacked the downstream region.
When Valhayle blocked every escape route possible with the advance party.
The Granoir soldiers called Valhayle the ‘Monster with Eyes Up In the Sky’ and ran away.
They never saw his face since he always wore a helmet in battle, so it was reasonable that rumors of his appearance described him way uglier than he really was.
He benefited from those rumors in battle but he was soon infamous for his hideousness.
No one knew why Sir Luke included such a detailed description of Valhayle’s “hideousness” in the rumor.
But it was later discovered that Sir Luke and Valhayle were close friends ever since they were children and that…
A young noble lady from the East whom Sir Luke had admired for a long time had romantic feelings for Valhayle once.
While the battle was fought, Zelle was in the birdcage inside Valhayle’s tent.
She could smell the scent of blood in the air.
It reminded her of the Granoir reconnaissance troop that had been wiped out at dawn near camp.
Roheneim killed every reconnaissance soldier they found in this advancement.
They needed to hide that they were heading downstream, not midstream.
The execution court was located far away from Valhayle’s camp so Zelle didn’t hear anything—but she could still smell it.
A raw acrid stench that pierced through her nose.
That scent still lingered in the air.
Zelle couldn’t help but think how much Roheneim blood would be included in that stench.
After a painfully long and anxious wait, the sounds of the surroundings increased in volume. Zelle raised her talons and awaited.
The entrance flung open. Zelle stared at the man walking towards her.
˖:✧ ⑅•.⋅༻♔༺•⑅ ✧:˖
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